Sky’s Victorian-literary gothic drama series Penny Dreadful returns to our screens next month, and the first episode jumps straight back into the action after the heartbreaking ending to its last outing.
For anyone who has missed the first two series, the programme is based around other-worldly literary characters including Dr. Frankenstein and his monsters, Dorian Gray and brings those and other characters into a new light by exploring their origin in this psychological thriller that takes place in the dark corners of Victorian London.
Produced by Sam Mendes and written by John Logan, the cast includes Timothy Dalton, Hollywood star Josh Hartnett and Bond Girl Eva Green. Although it looks like it came straight out of Dickens’ the show is filmed in the Ardmore Studios in Wicklow, but new plot twists see an expansive new setting as Hartnett’s character returns home after being extradited in the last series.
With all of the characters starting out on different sides of the globe, the show has been lifted with the inclusion of a new Western element, as well as Moroccan and polar sets, paving the way for a whole new list of characters to be introduced to the drama, as well as new adventures by the existing cast.
One such existing member, who promises to be at the centre of the action is Hecate Poole, played by Cork actress Sarah Greene. Her on-screen mother last series was Peaky Blinders actress Helen McCrory, who played professional spiritualist Evelyn Poole, and her frightening alias Madame Kali, the secret leader of the Nightcomers; a powerful coven of witches.
“I did miss working with Helen this series around, but I got a text off of her the last day wishing us all well,” says Sarah.
Sarah isn’t too disappointed with her on-screen companions this time around however, joking that it wasn’t too hard filming love scenes with Hollywood heartthrob Josh Hartnett.
As Series 3 kicks off, we see Hartnett’s character Ethan Chandler in the forced company of some American ‘friends’ he has picked up since being forced to return to his native American soil. On the train, Hecate is present and after the show’s first action-packed scene we see her flee the train across the desert land of the wild west to catch up with Ethan and his new captives.
“The new scenes were filmed in Spain. So while the main scenes are all shot out of the Ardmore Studios in Ireland, we had to go on location to recreate the old western style of the American scenes,” she says.
“It was absolutely brilliant to shoot out in the desert, and I love the heat so didn’t find it too hot at all. And it was where all the old spaghetti westerns were filmed too so it really brings an extra element to the scenes we shoot in the Victorian London.”
Watch the Series 3 trailer here:
“The attention to detail is just second to none,” says Greene. “When you walk in and you are just immersed in this world then it makes it so much easier to believe it and just show up and do what you have to do.
“Although one little trade secret is that although it looks harsh, there are no real sharp tables like you’d associate with Victorian rooms.
“All the props and surroundings are quite spongy which come in great help when you are doing an action sequence and getting thrown around the place.”
And Sarah’s character is one that has to get involved, from the witch-like scenes of Series 2 to the Calamity Jane like role she appears to be taking through this renewal.
“I like to do as many of the stunts as I possibly can. The stunt team are great but it is so much fun to get involved, and you don’t really notice yourself getting hurt until after it has happened.
“I suppose with the adrenaline pumping you just get on to the next sequence or scene and it’s not until the next day when you feel a bit sore, or notice a bruise and wonder where it came from!”
“They recruit an army of fallen women in the name of justice”
This series, she is joined by a few new cast members, one of which will play a huge role as Dr Frankenstein, played by Harry Treadaway, goes on a journey of self-discovery and loathing.
He calls on the help of his old school friend Dr Jekyll, wanting to help kill the monster her has created, after Billie Piper’s Brona Croft’s character turned down his romantic advances in the place of Dorian Gray after she was turned into the Bride of Frankenstein last series.
But what Frankenstein does not realise is while he has become obsessed with biology and in creating his own human life, his counterpart has gone on a journey of his own, one which is easy to fill the gaps in if you are familiar with the literary stories which Logan has drawn from.
Dr Jekyll, played by north London actor Shazak Latif, only makes one reference to how he has dealt with his own demons when he refers to the chemistry his life has taken rather than the biology of Frankenstein.
His offer to Frankenstein when he begs for help to destroy, i.e. kill, Brona? To try to control and change her character, much like the rage that Jekyll and Hyde experience in popular superhero films and the original novel.
“John Logan’s writing is just fantastic. You cannot really compare this character to other Dr Hydes as he puts his own twist on it, and the writing really does all the work for you.
“The set is fantastic too. It’s like you just need to show up and read your lines and the job is almost done for you! I show Harry’s character to my own laboratory and I couldn’t believe it the first time I walked on. It is like a fully working lab, there are glass jars bubbling away and you can just really immerse yourself in what he is trying to create.”
Sarah agrees: “I definitely think the lab is the best set I seen this year, it’s phenomenal.”
Billie Piper has a huge role to play in this series as she and her on-screen husband Dorian Gray go into the dark underworld to fulfil their deathly inklings. Lily is a woman on a mission on this series. I’d say you’re going to get a taste of her back story in this series. You’ll see everything that has led her into this angry, villainous quest.
“I was attracted to this role initially because the script immediately hooked me – that’s the only place to start. I was also attracted by the people involved and the promise of playing The Bride of Frankenstein!”
Again, Piper does not draw too much on the roles of the Bride of Frankenstein prior to her role in Penny Dreadful.
“I wasn’t really daunted because I knew it would be a very tasty interpretation. It wasn’t going to be a simple resurrection of a classic character. During the course of Penny Dreadful, you might actually find out more about that kind of chick.
“I think this becomes a feminist tale because she and Dorian have recruited an army of fallen women in the name of justice.
The root of Lily’s anger is the horrific things that have happened to her and to women at large. That really is the cause of her new movement – and I would call it a movement.
Her and Dorian have been put together by the ill-fated science of Dr Frankenstein, and Piper can’t wait for the audience to see how their relationship pans out.
“She and Dorian have a tricky, strained relationship. They have their own agendas, but they enable each other to achieve things. In Dorian, Lily has found her ally. He has the means and the money, and he is also immortal. Together, they can do whatever the hell they want.”
And are there any stunts that prove too gory for the cast to take on? Latif agrees that he hasn’t been asked to do anything too ‘out-there’ but while Greene is up for anything, she had to draw the line with snakes last series.
“I’m not too bad with phobias, but they had a real snake slithering on me in the middle of a scene. It was a bit awkward and uncomfortable and in the end they had to cut the scenes because it didn’t work with the movement and everything else.”
Piper also finds it easy enough to get to grips with scenes that others may feel squeamish about.
“No. It’s one thing doing it, and another thing watching it. So I don’t feel the gore that everyone else talks about. Thankfully, we break it down into such tiny moments that – and I hate to say this – it becomes normalised.
“Fantasy shows like this, and their popularity, are just a sign of the times. It’s absolute escapism. We want to lose ourselves in things that are not at all normal. We are looking for stories about heroes and villains, and that appetite just keeps going strong.
“They’re classic stories, aren’t they? They never get old. Every generation wants to interpret them differently.
“I really hope that ultimately viewers take a lot away from this series. Ultimately, it’s about this amazing bunch of characters lost in their own realm. If you feel an outsider, then emotionally you will find something to connect with in Penny Dreadful. I’d really love to make another series. I really hope we do more because this drama is too good to phase out. As we go on, the stories are getting way more tasty and I love playing her because as Lily I get to do all the things I wouldn’t dream of doing in my real life! That’s a massive attraction for me.”
“I move my face so much, because I’m very much expressive,” she says, imitating a critique she has heard before.
“I’m told a lot, ‘Stop moving your face’. Because on camera the tiniest movement tells so much and it looks really hammy. It’s all about portraying the thought, instead.”
Television has now become the focus of Greene’s career, though. She has a part in what has been widely referred to as “Bradley Cooper’s chef movie” (John Wells’ film is actually titled, with somewhat less pith, Adam Jones).
And her time in New York, with meetings with Harvey Weinstein and photo shoots with Vogue, has brought her into contact with another realm of stardom. “Oh, I love him!” she trills when I mention Zachary Quinto, another actor with a well-stamped passport between theatre, film and television.
“I hung out with him a little bit in New York.”
“I do miss theatre, I have to say, a lot,” she says.
“I just wanted to make some money to look after my family, basically. I got to a point where I thought, now I have a choice. I can stay in theatre, or I can challenge myself and give this a go. And I want to challenge myself. I like to scare myself.”
“That’s what the show does best,” says Greene. “We study these characters and watch them going through these struggles, whether they be sexual or psychological.
“There’s something much deeper and darker and more real about John’s characters, I think.”